About the book
When dealing with demons, the devil’s in the details…
Stealing mystical and arcane artifacts is a dangerous business, especially for a human, but Zoey Wharton is an exceptional thief. The trick to staying alive is having friends in all the wrong places. While having a witch and a werewolf on the payroll helps, being partners with a vampire really opens doors.
Zoey and Daniel were childhood sweethearts until a violent car crash took his life and left her shattered. When Daniel returned from the grave as a vampire, his only interest in Zoey was in keeping her safely apart from the secrets of his dark world. He has vowed to protect her, but his heart seems as cold as the night he calls home.
Five years later, a mysterious new client named Lucas Halfer offers Zoey a fortune to steal the Light of Alhorra. The search for the Light leads Zoey into the arms of an earthbound faery prince. Devinshea Quinn sweeps her off her feet, showing her everything the supernatural world has to offer, but Daniel still calls to her heart.
As the true nature of the Light is revealed, Zoey discovers Halfer is a demon and much more than money is at stake. Per her contract, she must give him the Light or spend an eternity in Hell. What’s a girl to do except fight for her soul…and her heart.
“I have to say I’m surprised,” the gentleman across the table from me said. “I honestly expected someone of your reputation to be, well, a bit older.”
I looked up from the menu I was pretending to study. There was no actual need to read it. I had it memorized, but it gave me time to make assessments concerning my potential client.
Lucas Halfer made a memorable first impression. By all appearances, he was a man in his prime, perhaps forty or forty-five. The world I dealt in was rife with secrets and things that were not what they seemed to be, so I took nothing for granted. If he’d come to see me, he likely had something to hide.
Lucas Halfer glowed with the suave inner confidence of a man who knew he looked good in his tailored Armani suit and what had to be thousand dollar Italian shoes. He was well groomed, but there was nothing metro about him. If I had to guess, I would say he had not always been so wealthy. He’d probably fought his way to any power he accumulated. There was a certain roughness to his features that no amount of polishing could eliminate. It was his obvious wealth that put my guard up the minute he’d walked into Canelli’s for our meeting.
Why would a man who always bought the best be looking to hire me?
“Looks can be deceiving, Mr. Halfer,” I replied with what I like to think of as my sassy smile. Perhaps I could make up for my lack of designer labels with youthful flirting.
He studied me for a moment, assessing me with a singular purpose. Those dark eyes pinned me. Black as night, they seemed to have a power all their own.
And then the moment was gone. He smiled, a smooth expression that spoke of social ease. “A truer thing has never been said, Ms. Wharton. There is a reason we should never judge a book by its cover. Even when the cover is so very lovely. Now, what’s good here?”
I breathed a little sigh of relief, the odd moment behind us. It was easier to talk about the menu. But suspicion was playing at the back of my mind.
I was twenty-five years old and liked to consider myself quite the up-and-comer in the world of procurement. That’s a fancy way of saying I was a thief. I was a good thief, on her way to being a great thief, but as Mr. Halfer pointed out, I was young. There were more experienced thieves out there with more ferocious reputations. Since striking out on my own, I’d run a solid ten jobs with an excellent rate of return and a very small mortality rate.
Still, the jobs had been smallish up until now, and there was that incident in San Francisco. I didn’t blame myself for that screw up. Normal people use alarms and high tech lasers to protect their valuables. Civilized people don’t set bear traps. It was a rookie mistake I didn’t plan on making again, God rest Morty O’Brien’s poor soul.
Given my youth and relative inexperience, I wondered what had sent Mr. Halfer to my small, out of the way part of the world. I could think of half a dozen other crews I would pick if I needed an object procured and possessed sufficient funds. So what did Mr. Moneybags want with me? The waiter chose that moment to take our order. I was gratified to see that he pretended not to know me. Discretion was why I usually held my client meetings at Canelli’s. It was dumpy and trapped in the fifties, with its retro booths and tables with red and white checkered linens. The walls were covered in wood paneling that had seen better days, and the bar had a solid, well-used feel to it. It was the kind of bar where you ordered a martini—not some fruity apple or peartini, but a solid gin martini, just like Dino liked ‘em. Canelli’s had no windows, so there was a perpetual gloom to the dining area. Because there were no windows, there were also no prying eyes to look inside from the safety of the street. If you wanted to know what went on in Canelli’s, you had to take a chance and enter the den. It looked like the set of a Martin Scorsese crime drama, and with good reason. It really was run by the mob, and they trained their staff well. They also made a kickass chicken piccata.
Orders taken and waiter dispersed, Mr. Halfer studied me over his expensive glass of Chianti. “Usually I prefer to handle these situations over the phone. I’m afraid I rarely get to leave the office these days, but I wanted to meet you in person. I never would have thought the daughter of Harry Wharton would turn out so lovely.”
It took everything I had not to grimace at the mere mention of my father’s name. It’s not that I didn’t love my dad. I did and I do. But liking him can be a much more difficult thing to accomplish.
“Mr. Halfer, if you’re trying to get to my father through me, I can assure you it won’t work,” I said through a tight-lipped smile. It wasn’t the first time some client tried to use me to get the great Harry Wharton to take their call. Dad was a legend in the business and rarely took on new clients. “He books his own jobs and doesn’t listen to my counsel. You should really call his assistant. I can give you her number, though the last time I talked to Christine, she was pushing twenty-three. He’s probably traded her in for a younger model, but he always makes sure the phone number doesn’t change.”
Mr. Halfer laughed, a deep, rich sound that I found somewhat unsettling. “Let me set your mind at ease, Miss Wharton. I’m only interested in hiring you. This is important to me. You’re the one for the job. I like the makeup of your crew. It’s solid. I think your father works with too many contractors.”
I wasn’t buying the flattery, but smiled anyway. There was no reason to play the tough girl, not yet anyway. “I’m glad to hear that. I assure you, Mr. Halfer, my work is impeccable, and my crew is discreet. You’ll find us more than capable of handling the job. What exactly is the job?”
With an elegant aplomb, he reached for the bottle of wine and filled my empty glass halfway. “Now, now, Miss Wharton, there’s no need to rush things. I like to take my time and sample the pleasures this world has to offer. Please enjoy the wine. It’s truly a joy to taste. There is nothing quite like it where I come from.”
Now my radar was beeping. “And where do you come from Mr. Halfer?” I asked, not sure I really wanted to know the answer.
In the low light of the restaurant, his eyes were like dark mirrors and his smile a slightly sinister thing. “All in good time, Miss Wharton. But if you really want to get down to business, I suggest you invite your vampire to join us.”
I kept my smile in place, but he’d thrown me for a loop. “What are you talking about?”
“I assume he’s yours,” Mr. Halfer continued, not skipping a beat. “I’m talking about the sandy-haired lad who’s trying hard to look like he’s enjoying a martini he can’t actually drink. Or is it mere coincidence?”
Yep, that was my vampire. I sighed and gestured for Daniel to come over. His cover was blown. He slid off the barstool with a preternatural grace that set my heart racing. The ease of his movement was only one of the blessings death had brought Daniel.
“He’s not human,” Daniel accused flatly as he eased into an empty chair.
I somehow managed not to retort with a childish “duh,” but the look in Daniel’s blue eyes told me he knew exactly what I was thinking.
A human would most likely have ignored Daniel completely. Their unknowing eyes tended to slide off of his form until he wanted a person to see him. By that time, it was usually far too late to avoid becoming a late-night snack. There were humans who knew about vampires and the other members of the underworld, myself included, but I thought it unlikely that Lucas Halfer was anything so mundane as a human.
“Please don’t blame yourself, Mr. Donovan.” Halfer’s lips curled up in a smug smile. He turned to me. “Like I said, I have done my due diligence. I knew you worked with a vampire before I contacted you. He’s one of the reasons I believe you’re perfect for this job. His skills will come in handy, as will those of your witch and werewolf.”
His information was surprisingly up to date. Neil and Sarah were fairly recent additions to the crew. Daniel and I worked with a lot of contractors before settling on those two.
“As we don’t know what the job is yet, I can’t say I’ll be using my skills at all.” There was no lack of arrogance in Daniel’s voice. His handsome features were set in a sullen pout. He didn’t like having his cover blown and knowing less about the client than he knew about us. I didn’t need a crystal ball to see a hearty lecture on our vetting process in my future. Daniel was staring down our potential client like a lion waiting to pounce.
This was why I handled the clients and Daniel sat his perfect ass on a barstool ten yards away and listened in. Daniel wasn’t what I would call a “people person.” He was somewhat of a misanthrope before he died. Getting hit by a drunk driver and waking up on the autopsy table had done nothing to fix his view of humanity.
The arrival of the aforementioned kick-ass piccata eased the awkwardness of the moment. The sight of Daniel’s mouth tightening dimmed my enthusiasm. I knew he missed food. He’d been an enthusiastic eater before his turn. We spent our college years finding the absolute best spots on campus for burgers and pizza and the occasional splurge on high-end Italian. I counted it as the best time of my life. Those years between leaving my father’s house and Daniel’s untimely death were precious memories. I set my fork down. Daniel touched my arm. He smiled that slight smile of his I rarely ever saw since his return. It was his way of giving me permission to enjoy that which he could not. I glanced at the client. The satisfaction in his dark eyes told me we’d just given valuable information away. Daniel pulled back and straightened into a rigid posture that proved he regretted the intimacy.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” the waiter asked Daniel politely. “Perhaps a specialty drink from the bar?”
Daniel nodded. “That will do. I like my drink at the proper temperature.”
The waiter assured Daniel he could provide the service and went to fetch the drink. The specialty drink was O positive. The proper temperature was 98.7 degrees. Once again, the mob knew how to treat a customer. I tried not to think about how they procured this specific vintage.
Halfer inhaled the scent of the marinara sauce before digging in with the gusto of a man who truly enjoyed the decadent pleasures of life. “This is excellent. I’ll have to remember this place the next time I’m in Dallas.”
“We were getting to the job,” Daniel said, letting impatience settle into his tone.
Halfer looked amused and all but ignored Daniel. Instead he turned his unsettling eyes to me. I wondered exactly how not human he was. “I need you to steal the Light of Alhorra for me.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of it.” Honesty was usually the best policy at this stage. There were too many ways to screw up and look foolish by embellishing the truth. There would be time enough for lying later on in the relationship.
“I’m not surprised,” my client replied, nonplussed. “It’s an obscure artifact. It is very old and not of great consequence.”
“Dark magic?” Daniel asked as the waiter placed a brass goblet on the table. The rest of the restaurant’s barware was glass, but blood looked like blood even in the gloom of low light.
Halfer waved off Daniel’s question. “Not at all. Please feel free to vet the artifact. It is of the purest white magic, I assure you. It brings good fortune to the one who possesses it. You’ll suffer no ill effects by your brief guardianship.”
“Did this artifact belong to you?” I didn’t actually care about the answer. Usually people stole things that didn’t belong to them. That’s why they call it stealing. Sometimes I get the rare client who is seeking to get back what’s rightfully theirs. These are usually the ones who try to pay the least and almost always balk when the bill comes due.
“It belonged to a colleague,” he replied. “I’m merely representing her interests. As I said, in the arcane world the object is of little consequence, but my client has a fondness for it. It was a gift from her father and means the world to her. The artifact is a medium-sized ornate box weighing approximately twenty pounds. It was stolen two weeks ago. My intelligence places it in St. Louis. It’s scheduled to be moved here in two weeks’ time. It’s all here in a report I prepared for you. That is, if you take the case.”
I took a short swallow of the excellent Chianti. “I never take a case until I’ve discussed payment.”
“Of course.” He picked up the briefcase he’d carried in and handed it to me. The weight of the case surprised me. “It’s five hundred thousand up front, with another five hundred on delivery of the object.”
“There’s five hundred thousand in this case?” I asked, not managing to keep the “holy crap, that’s a lot of money” out of my voice.
Halfer smiled, obviously amused at my shock. “Yes, Miss Wharton. There is five hundred thousand cash in this case. It should cover any expenses. I take it you find the rate acceptable?”
I took a deep breath and tried to find my dignity. I forced my hand back in my lap. I was almost overwhelmed with the sudden, profound need to stroke the case and maybe give it a little kiss. Suspicion creeped along my spine. “That’s an awful lot of cash.”
Halfer shrugged lightly. “I’m asking you to do this job in a very short amount of time. This is important to me. I’m willing to pay top dollar to make sure it gets done right.”
Top dollar was right. The lure of all that money had my head spinning, and I responded before I could really think about it. “Yes, Mr. Halfer, I believe I can get the job done for this.”
I looked at Daniel, expecting to see his disapproval, but he hadn’t taken his eyes off the briefcase. His fangs were slightly out. “Yep,” was all he managed to say.
“Then I will take my leave of you.” Halfer pushed his chair back and slid a manila folder across the table. “Here’s all the information you’ll need, including my contact numbers. I’ll be waiting to hear from you.” He turned to walk away but looked back at me one last time. “I expect great things of you, Zoey Wharton.”
My stomach turned over slightly as I wondered what this man would do if those “great things” he expected failed to materialize. I thought it best not to find out.
As the door closed behind Halfer, I was left with more money than I’d ever made on a job before and the promise of much more to come. I stared at the door he’d just disappeared through. I’d never before accepted a client on the first meeting. It was one of the things my father taught me about the business. The first meeting was about learning the job and getting information on the client. My instincts failed, thrown over by the glitter of cash and the promise of glory. If I pulled this off, I would move into an entirely different playing field. I would be competing with the best and my reputation would be made. The little girl in me whispered in a small voice that my father would have to acknowledge me. If I pulled this off, he would have to be proud of me. He would have to treat me as an equal.
When I looked over at Daniel, there was a panicked look in his eyes. He was staring at the chair recently vacated by Lucas Halfer.
“What is it?” I asked, not really worried. I was still thinking about the money and the potential glory. I would be the talk of my professional world. I could start being choosy about my clientele. I might even get an office and an assistant.
“Z, I am so sorry.” If possible, his face was even paler than usual.
My pulse sped up, and I started paying attention. Daniel didn’t usually apologize, so I knew this was something he considered a big mistake.
“I didn’t feed before I came here. It’s my only excuse. I was running late,” he stammered. “It’s so subtle. He’s damn good, but I should have caught it.”
“That smell.” He breathed in again, his nose turning up in distaste.
“Brimstone. He’s a demon, Zoey.”
I pushed the briefcase away as though my rejection of it would solve my problem. What seemed for a moment to be my glittering future now looked like a potential tomb with a one-way ticket to a vacation spot I didn’t want to visit. I sealed the deal by taking the money. There was not a lot I could do. The damage was done.
The waiter slipped the check onto the table. I absently took note of the shockingly large amount.
I had made a deal with the devil, and the bastard stuck me with the bill.
Copyright Lexi Blake 2013